India can become world leader in AI, says former Infosys CEO Vikas Sikka

Former Infosys CEO Vishal Sikka, who has announced a new AI startup with USD50 million fund, believes India has the potential to become a world leader in artificial intelligence but the key to this is integrating AI into the country’s education system in a massive way.

India is at “an inflection point” when it comes to AI or artificial intelligence, Sikka said.

Over the next 20-25 years, AI is going to be “a very, very big disruptor” for the Indian society because what one is seeing now in terms of automation and job losses because of automation is just the beginning, said Sikka, who announced his startup Vianai Systems last week.

“But on the other hand, if we are able to bring AI education, the ability to build AI systems to India at a very large scale, and I’m talking about like billion plus people, then India can really leap frog and become the world’s leader in artificial intelligence, in AI skill and AI talent,” Sikka told PTI in an exclusive interview.

Doing that requires working on multiple dimensions in parallel, he said.

Last month, at the request of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Sikka gave a presentation before the NITI Aayog how to expand the reach of AI to the Indian society in a very big way.

Representatives of some 20 Union ministries were present during his presentation on AI and India. This, he said, required creating necessary infrastructure to bring the talent through institutions, schools and educational institutions, the ability to do AI education at a large scale.

According to Sikka, the prime minister said he personally saw whenever classes worked into digital classrooms, he was joking that children would sometimes even forget to eat their lunch because they were so engrossed in learning. “It was very encouraging. But I think a lot of that has to be done,” he said and suggested multi-faceted countrywide programme like digital classrooms.

If India does nothing then this great wave of AI is going to “have massive disruption” over the next 20 years. But on the other hand, if it puts together programmes then this can be a huge advantage for it and “we can be a leader in the world,” he said.

Referring to his interactions with the Indian government officials and the steps being taken by the prime minister, Sikka said he is very encouraged by the commitment.

His Vianai Systems is an AI Enterprise Platform startup with a mission to help businesses around the world successfully leverage AI to drive fundamental digital transformations.

He said there have been remarkable achievements in the field of AI, but conceded that significant issues too have emerged in the field of artificial intelligence.

“The technique themselves are quite opaque, not transparent. The lack of ability to explain is one of the major weaknesses of these techniques,” Sikka said.

He said that there is an incredible shortage of talent in the field of AI.

With this in backdrop, Sikka said he started this venture to build a platform that can dramatically improve the accessibility of AI, that is educational, that explains to people how this works, that they can experiment with it, they can play with it, they can explore and understand what is happening.

“That is what my prototype was about,” said Sikka as he went back to his PhD thesis on AI in 90s.

For its mass application in a transparent manner, he said there is a need to build a platform that is a dramatic improvement on what is available today.

Sikka has raised USD 50 million as the startup seed money.

“Hopefully, we wouldn’t have to raise any money again,” he said, adding that the objective is to bring AI to businesses on massive scale. Last week, he demonstrated the first glimpse of the platform at the Oracle Open World event in the Silicon Valley.

One of the reasons that there are so few applications of engineer machine learning is because the techniques and the tools are extremely dense, they are complicated, the experience of developer is broken profound.

“So we wanted to make it dramatically simpler to access an AI system and to execute on AI. His platform dramatically simplifies the AI system from thousands of lines of codes to a few dozens of lines of codes. This will make the systems much much simpler,” he said.

“We have been thinking very carefully, and very diligently about how we can come up with a platform that is completely agnostic, completely open and yet makes it dramatically simpler, and more efficient and more exploratory to build an AI system. And with that when you think about a future where enterprises will deploy dozens, if not hundreds of AI applications, you need something like this to make that happen. And that’s what we are working on,” Sikka said.

Last week, he announced a panel of advisors from industry and academia for Vianai. They include Henning Kagermann, former chairman and CEO of SAP and chairman of Acatech; Alan Kay, Turing Award winner and computer science pioneer; Divesh Makan, founder of ICONIQ Capital; Indra Nooyi, member of the board at Amazon and Schlumberger and former CEO of PepsiCo; and Sebastian Thrun, CEO of Kitty Hawk Corporation and co-founder and chairman of Udacity.

“Every company that hopes to be a leader in their industry needs to understand the transformative potential of AI, and to successfully activate it within their organisations,” said Nooyi in a statement.

“The market need is immense, and Vianai, with its capable leadership and differentiated platform, is in a unique position to address it. I look forward to being an advisor to the company in the exciting times ahead,” she said.



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